Welcome to Sweden, rape capitol of the world.
In a move that is probably more cliche than simply reviewing the most recent film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's immensely popular novel, I've taken a step back in time to catch up on the original Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'm not entirely unfamiliar with the movies and their source material, but I have never read the books. What's great about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that you don't need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy the film. As a stand alone product, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an intense journey into some of the darkest places in the human experience and one that is thrilling and fantastically captivating.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows the initially separate narratives of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), whose life was turned upside-down by his recent conviction for libel, and hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who takes a job doing a background investigation of Mikael for a potential employer. Mikael is subsequently hired as a private investigator to solve the cold-case murder of a young girl and Lisbeth secretly aids his search by hacking his computer and leaving clues. As their lives become entangled, they unravel the mysteries of a thirty year old murder and discover the dark secrets that have kept the crime from being solved while dealing with their own personal demons. Mikael struggles with his obsession to solve the murder as Lisbeth battles internal and external forces, particularly her sadistic legal guardian, that assault her from every angle. The resulting labyrinth-like plot is full of surprises and moments of pure violent realism that ground the characters and story in a way that greatly increases the film's realism.
What helps The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stand above so many murder mystery thrillers just like it is the believability of the characters and the intense moments they experience. Both the actors and the director deserve heaps of credit for this. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the sadistic violence that is perpetrated against it's characters and the actor's go further to sell that violence and, more importantly, the lasting effects of it. Rape and sexual assault are extremely hard to put on camera successfully and immensely disturbing when done correctly. The film walks the razor edge of disturbing and exploitative masterfully primarily because of Rapace's ability to sell the after effects of what happens to her. Each and every sexual assault she is the victim of is shot with just enough imagery to make it clear what is transpiring, but it's really the following scenes of her trying to deal with the trauma that leave the lasting impression. It's these moments that truly help the audience buy into her as a believable character and make her subsequent revenge actions, which are wonderfully sadistic, more believable.
While the blunt force of the violence in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves the greatest lasting impression, so much can be about the general mood of foreboding director Niels Arden Oplev creates for the entire movie. From the general shot selection to the music to the settings chosen, everything about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo screams of dark secrets hidden just underneath the surface. Shots are wider and held for longer than normal and the music seems to blend seamlessly instead of pounding beats of score that some thrillers utilize. Combine this with the vast emptiness of rural Sweden and you have a seemingly empty, but somehow troubling atmosphere. Ultimately this creates a slow, almost plodding, feeling that is magnificently punctuated by intense violence that is expected, but still shocking. Every moment of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems filled to the brim with dread and suspense. This speaks to a unity of vision that for the film that is truly remarkable.
Ironically, if someone were asking me about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I would tell them that it had a feeling similar to a David Fincher thriller. It's slow, almost too slow at points, but all the elements of the film work to build an intensity that really supports the film's narrative. Sprinkle in some great performances and you have a movie that's sure to appeal to a lot of diverse tastes. If you're at all squeamish about violence against women, I'd probably stay away from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but few thrillers are as intense or leave this kind of lasting impression.